Fall Publishing Season is My Christmas

Oh TBR, oh TBR! Your books just scrape my ceiling.

Some people love Halloween. For others they just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m definitely a fall publishing fanatic and that’s not just because my job is in cataloging. I’m a voracious reader and much like the kid whose eyes are bigger than her stomach (also me) I am constantly checking out, or shelving on Goodreads, more books than I can possibly read. I like to read based on my mood so I can never stick to a prescribed list for long–even if I’m the fool who made the list in the first place! Therefore I give to you (and let’s be honest, this is going to be a blog post so I can bookmark it for myself for later) the books that came out this fall that I haven’t read yet but I really, really want to.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A collection of short stories about the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. So many of my reading buddies have been raving over this one. I’ve never gotten into short stories before but I think it’s time I started!

It Devours: a Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
The weirdest podcast I listen to (and I also listen to a podcast that is literally a family playing Dungeons & Dragons) is Welcome to Night Vale. I read the first novel, aptly named Welcome to Night Vale–or rather I had the podcast’s narrator, Cecil Baldwin, read it to me via audibook. Guess what? The library also has both the print and audio versions of It Devours so I can pick my poison.

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer
You say there aren’t any female serial killers? I say they are, and Lady Killers says there are at least 14. I should probably have tried harder to read this before Halloween but honestly all I have to do is turn out the lights and get out my clip-on book light and no matter what I’m reading will definitely end up with me being creeped out by the darkness alone. Add in some gruesome murder details and I may never sleep again.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
This novel centers around a rape, a group of girls determined to avenge it (even though they didn’t know the person who was raped), and the movement that transforms the lives of everyone around them. This is another book my reading buddies are raving about. Do they hold a secret cool-girl book club without me? If they did I wouldn’t blame them. The way I’m flighty about what to read next, they’d be waiting on me forever. However, after reading Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (review to come!) this seems like an excellent companion novel even though it’s by a completely different author.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz
Are you a P&P fangirl or fanboy? What if I told you there’s a novel where the roles of Darcy and Bennet are gender swapped, it takes place during Christmastime, and is written by an incredibly talented author? If you’re checking all the boxes, you to need this book in your life. I’ve had my own copy of this on my nightstand for a while but I’m purposefully putting off starting it until closer to Christmas. Because Christmas reads are the best at Christmas.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, completely gutted me and put me back together. I’m not sure what to expect from this next book of poetry but it’s one I preordered because I knew I would love it to pieces. I’ll chime in later after I actually read it and let you know how successful I was in determining my pre-adoration!

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
JOHN GREEN PUBLISHED A NEW BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FIVE YEARS. If you had’t gotten the memo yet, you now have the knowledge so make use of it! I confess I’ve never actually read a John Green novel yet (stop it! I know!) but I absolutely adore all the awesomeness he’s thrown out into the world via the internet and this book in particular, about the search for a millionaire and a girl stuck in a spiral of her own thoughts, speaks to me.

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
Oh my goodness, I really love Gabrielle Union! Her book is a collection of essays that cover all kinds of topics that are totally my jam: gender, sexuality, race, feminism, and more. One of my friends compared it to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and if that’s even half true I am so totally in.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
What better way to wrap up this towering TBR than with a book about books? Annie Spence is a librarian and she’s written an entire book of letters to the books in her life–it’s really meta. I’ve heard it’s absolutely hilarious and I’m morally obligated to read books written by librarians.

There are literally dozens more books in my TBR that’s taller than me, but I’m out of time. What are you reading or looking forward to reading in the (hopefully) near future? Your suggestions will definitely grow my TBR tower but don’t worry; it’s always going to grow and I’d much rather it grow with legitimately good recommendations than just my wandering eye.

And the Librarian Said, “Read This!”

How’s your summer reading challenge coming along? One of this year’s challenges is to read a book recommended by a librarian. Since I know you don’t always have time to chat when you stop in, I asked my colleagues to offer up some suggestions for you.

Dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, with sparkling prose style, this is one of the best book I’ve read on the subject. Love for Sale: Pop Music in America by David Hajdu covers pop music from the era of song sheets in the late nineteenth century to contemporary digital delivery. Compulsively readable, it works for every level of reader, from a scholar interested in how pop has evolved in content, style, and delivery over the years to those who want to relate to Hajdu’s observation of cultural and personal connections. Highly recommended.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

If you have a taste for historical fiction, speculative fiction, and are open to reading Young Adult novels, I’ve got a couple books that may be right up your alley. Front Lines is the first book in a new series by Michael Grant about what World War II would have been like if women had been included in the draft. I really enjoyed the character development, and found the plot to be exciting and unique.
I’m waiting eagerly for book 2 to come out, but in the meantime I started another series called Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Wolf by Wolf revolves around the idea that the Nazis and Imperial Japan emerged from World War II victorious, and that the United States never became involved. Yael escaped a Nazi medical experiment with an unusual new ability and has joined the resistance. Yael’s assignment is to infiltrate the annual Axis Tour – a motorcycle race that spans Nazi and Imperial Japanese territory – win, and kill Hitler. This book reads like a spy novel and an extended car chase all wrapped up in one.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

Do you love historical fiction? Do you love dragons? How about a series that combines them?? Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series begins with His Majesty’s Dragon, in which Captain Will Laurence is serving in the Royal Navy right in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars. His ship captures a French frigate bearing precious cargo…an unhatched dragon egg. You see, dragons have been domesticated (to the extent that’s even possible) to serve with the Aerial Corps, allowing Aviators to attack from above, dropping bombs and other projectiles onto the ships battling on the high seas. The Pilots – chosen by the dragons and not the other way around – develop tight bonds and steadfast partnerships with the powerful and capricious beasts. When this particular dragon hatches, it chooses Will. This is a problem. A big problem. Will has been in the Navy since boyhood and therefore has no training to be an Aviator, plus he is on the point of becoming engaged, and his new calling renders marriage virtually impossible. His first adventures with Temeraire take them to China and back against the backdrop of a volatile international conflict, and there are nine books to enjoy filled with more exploits and intrigue! I love Jane Austen and fantasy, so this is basically the perfect series for me.
From Sarah, Youth Services Librarian

I first read The Ha-Ha by Dave King in 2005 and recently came across it while browsing the main library’s top-drawer fiction collection. This is a graceful, measured debut both sad and funny. The plot circles round middle-aged Howard, who is unable to speak, read or write due to head injuries suffered in the Vietnam War. He lives in the house he grew up in with an assortment of entertaining boarders and spends his days tending the gardens of a convent. When Sylvia, Howard’s ex-high school girlfriend, heads for rehab, she saddles him with Ryan, her taciturn nine-year-old son. With many heartwarming passages that don’t turn sappy thanks to King’s prosaic writing style, it’s a heckuva ride for both of these quiet souls.
From Joyce, Adult Services Librarian

I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so here are two titles for your listening and reading pleasure this summer. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey does have the dreaded Z word in it, zombies that is, but there are no maniacal governors or hordes of decaying extras here. Instead you get an intense five person character study set in a ‘post incident’ Britain that keeps you guessing and makes you actually care about who survives and who doesn’t. The ending is also top notch and quite unexpected. I listened to the audio version and the narration was excellent as well. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins is also about an imagined Britain but this one in the past. The author travels the country on foot and in an unreliable VW Camper van visiting what remains of Roman Britain. Admittedly, compared to the European continent the ruins are a tad sparse, but that only adds to the mystery. The result is an intriguing travelogue that is as much about how we create the past as it is about the physical structures themselves.
From Richard, Adult Services Librarian

Do you love fantasy and enjoy resilient female characters, strong family bonds, and fast paced adventures? You should read Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren! Online, this book is described as equal parts Prison Break and Frozen. I see the resemblance! Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been sentenced to life in prison at Tyur’ma for stealing a diplomatically-important item from the royal family. Valor knowingly gets herself sent to this harsh and freezing prison so she can attempt to free them both; never mind that nobody has ever escaped in the 300 year history of this prison!
While it’s true this book is aimed at middle grade readers I’d definitely recommend this for fans of any age who are into The Hunger Games or Princess Academy.
From Andrea, Youth Services Librarian

When taking lunch-time walks in north Everett, I have occasionally seen people’s belongings strewn across front yards, looking abandoned and pathetic. Although I do know that Everett residents are poorer than people living elsewhere in Snohomish County and I have read about the high cost of renting and the scarcity of available affordable units, I knew next to nothing about the eviction process and how it affects the lives of tenants and landlords.
Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, caught my attention when I was thinking about possible authors for our Everett Reads: Beyond the Streets series. Desmond, a Harvard sociology professor, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2015 for his work on the impact eviction has on the lives of the urban poor. His research sounded both interesting and relevant.
We couldn’t afford Professor Desmond’s speaker’s fee, but I read the book, and I would encourage you to read it, too. This is no dry sociological study. Rather Desmond uses the stories of real people to introduce the reader to the economics and politics behind eviction—and the consequences suffered by the adults and children who find themselves at the mercy of a process that disrupts lives. Evicted is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the lives of the urban poor and the importance of stable housing.
From Eileen, Library Director

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
I’d recommend this fascinating biography to anyone interested in American history, photography, or Native American cultures. Edward Curtis, a brilliant Seattle photographer, spent decades crisscrossing the country to capture and preserve images and language from the “dying race” of Native Americans in the early 20th century. The book reads like a fast-paced adventure story, and readers travel along to locations as diverse at the Puget Sound, the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, and even Teddy Roosevelt’s White House. This book did what all great narrative non-fiction does: it kept me enthralled with a strong story and piqued my curiosity about new topics and ideas. It would be a great choice for fans of authors Erik Larson and Gary Krist.
From Mindy, Northwest History Librarian

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Bar none, one of the best books about music ever put together. I say “put together” because these are the real words from Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jim Carroll, Malcom McLaren, Danny Fields, and many other artists and impresarios collected and used to define punk by the creator of the legendary Punk Magazine from that era. Comprehensive, you’ll thrill to Punk’s prehistory in the early 70’s (Stooges, Velvet underground) to its late 70’s heyday (Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones) through to its last gasps in corporate eighties rock. Highest possible recommendation. Bonus: the 20th anniversary edition includes new photos and an afterword by the authors.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

To recommend a book to you, I would need to know your particular interests, taste, and what you’re in the mood for at the moment. But if you’re stretching yourself by doing our reading challenge anyway, I might as well suggest a challenging book. And I get to take the easy way out by recycling a review I’d written for Alki, the state’s library journal, many years ago.
Nathaniel Mackey is a renowned poet who has also written a sequence of novels called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. The review below is for the third book of the series, and you can just as easily start here as at the beginning. These books won’t appeal to every reader, and the library’s copies have gone largely unread, so I challenge you to get off the beaten path and to dive into the extraordinary language of Mackey’s jazz-band world.
Atet A.D. by Nathaniel Mackey
This epistolary novel covers the goings-on in a jazz band immediately following the death of Thelonious Monk in 1982. The language is superbly jazz-like as Mackey riffs and improvises on words and phrases – playfully filling his sentences with homonyms and syntactic variations, and parsing words to find others underneath or contracting them to build new ones. N., the narrator, is a musician and composer in the band, and through his letters we learn of his creative processes and critical insights as he attempts to push boundaries and build upon the works of the jazz greats that have preceded him – especially those from the post-bop and free jazz eras. The band’s musical drive and determination take them, at times, beyond the confines of the everyday world into one that countenances telepathic and metaphysical communication. While some of this certainly strains credulity, Mackey’s linguistic flights compensate as he transforms language into an instrument of amazing semantic agility and linguistic power (a chapter in which the band plays in Seattle has Mackey in peak form). This is not your standard plot-advancing or character-driven novel, but if you like both your jazz and fiction improvisatory, challenging, and playful, this might be right up your alley.
From Scott, Adult Services Librarian

Ever since the New Yorker published an article in 2015 about the long overdue major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, I’ve spoken to a lot of patrons at the library who were hoping to learn more. Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton is the perfect book to learn more about the science behind these dire predictions, as well as how much (or how little) you need to be concerned about this event depending on where you live. More importantly this book helps outline very simple things that you and your family can do to help you ride out the aftermath of a major event, whether it’s Cascadia Subduction Zone related or otherwise.
A very useful book that makes a good companion to Full Rip 9.0 is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. Ripley looks into several different kinds of disaster scenarios, from natural disasters to man-made ones, and dissects the steps taken by survivors, and those who perished. While on the outside this might sound like a macabre book, it’s actually pretty reassuring, because it reinforces the importance of planning ahead for the unthinkable so that your instincts are ready to guide you to safety should the need ever arise. Ripley also delves into the psychology of survivors, debunking some common misconceptions about how people react in disaster scenarios, and who may be more likely to fare well.
If these two books whet your appetite to learn more about how to be prepared, I also highly recommend looking into the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offered periodically for free for Everett residents and workers. Even if you don’t ultimately register to be an emergency response worker, attendees walk away with some very useful information that can be used to prepare their households and neighborhoods.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

So there you have it. Another challenge is in the books! [See what I did there?] Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I bring you more books to help you conquer your summer reading challenges!

How to Disappear Completely

I used to feel weird that I’ve always had a fascination (obsession) with the darker side of life. I thought there was something wrong with me (Oh shut up! I’m well aware there’s something wrong with me) until I heard that Stephen King used to keep a scrap-book of murder and other mayhem folks are wont to get up to. He had the same worry that I did: that people would think he was nuckin futs by being interested in the unsavory until he figured out it wasn’t an obsession so much as it was a lesson on how to spot maniacs and how to avoid them. I don’t keep a scrap-book of heinous images and the evil that people can do to one another. But I squirrel everything away in my head in storage boxes and occasionally rifle through those packed and dusty boxes the way a raccoon cleans something in water.

James Renner is a fantastic novelist. I came across his novel The Great Forgetting while I was working at the library one day. Then I read his first novel The Man from Primrose Lane. When I get passionate (again, obsessed) with something, I google the hell out of it. I googled James Renner (well that sounded downright filthy) and read that he has a keen interest in true crime that stemmed from his childhood. As a young boy a girl named Amy Mihaljevich was kidnapped and murdered not far from where he lived. The crime has gone unsolved for years. I know what you’re thinking: a novelist who can also write nonfiction? That’s like watching Madonna make attempt after attempt at an acting career. But James Renner wields a deft hand when writing both fiction and nonfiction.

truecrimeaddictRenner’s nonfiction book True Crime Addict opens on a seemingly ordinary Monday. Monday, February 9th, 2004 to be exact. Maura Murray, a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an email to her professors saying that there had been a death in her family and she wasn’t going to be able to attend her classes that day.

There had not been a death in her family.

Say what? Tell me more.

Maura emptied her bank account, went to a liquor store, bought booze, and then headed north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This was pretty bizarre behavior but many people would knowingly nod their head with a faint smile and remember their own college days of drinking and not knowing whose floor (or bed) they woke up in. At 7:30 that night, Maura Murray crashed into a snow bank hard enough to make the car inoperable. A man who heard the crash came out of his house to inspect what was going on. Maura seemed fine (later he would say he could smell liquor on her) and he went back to his house to call 911. By the time the police arrived, Maura was gone, never to be seen or heard from again.

Most of us leave our mark on things every day without realizing it: a hair stuck to the driver’s headrest, CCTV footage of you from the convenience store where you stopped for bottled water and a bag of Cornuts. Voice mail messages about nothing in particular. We also have to accept that time is a trickster. Both time and memory are tricksters. How can a seemingly ordinary girl be there one minute and then (poof!) be gone?

The police noted a crack in Maura’s windshield, red stains on the car door that looked to be wine (I still want to know why they think it was wine. My first thought would be “My God! Look at all this blood on the door!” But duh. They would have taken samples of it to see if it was human blood). The driver and passenger’s airbags had deployed, an empty beer bottle and a damaged box of Franzia wine was on the rear seat. They found two different Mapquest printouts for Burlington, Vermont and another to Stowe, Vermont. There was also a book about mountain climbing. Her debit and credit cards were left behind as was her cell phone.

In the beginning, the police didn’t see her disappearance as foul play because she had made preparations as if she was headed somewhere by emptying out her bank account, buying booze, and emailing her teachers. But Maura’s family felt something sinister had happened and didn’t buy the idea that she had wanted to disappear.

Maura’s father arrived in the town she disappeared from and you know what? Her dad gave me bad vibes. Not bad vibes as in “He killed her” but something felt off about the guy. Maura’s boyfriend and her father held a press conference and after it the police stated that Maura was now “listed as endangered and possibly suicidal.” How’d they go from “She’s just a missing young woman” to “Oh, she is a danger to herself and suicidal?” An enormous search was then launched to find her.

This is when the crackpots came out of the woodwork as they always do when something horrible happens. Maybe some of them meant well, but some were just mentally unstable. A man gave Maura’s father a rusty knife and told him it belonged to his brother who had a criminal past. There were various Maura sightings that never panned out. At the beginning of March, Maura’s father went home and returned every weekend to help with the search. The police believed there were two scenarios for Maura’s disappearance: She could have crashed into the snow bank and then caught a ride with someone or someone could have abducted her.

Twelve years went by without a Maura sighting or any clues to point to what happened to her. I’m sure after twelve years of worrying and waiting her parents would have moved on from hoping she was still alive to wanting her body found so they could have some peace of mind. The lives of everyone involved with Maura Murray ground to a halt. People began to be haunted by what had happened to her after she crashed her car. Before she disappeared she got into trouble with credit fraud, using a “discarded” credit card to buy $79 worth of delivery pizza. Those charges had been dismissed. If she was cleared, why was she running away? I think that something so awful happened that the only thing she could think to do was put miles between herself and that awful thing.

On the anniversary of her disappearance a man with the screen name 112dirtbag posted a video on YouTube. It shows a man laughing maniacally into a camera. At first the guy looks like someone’s grandpa who’s relaxing with his model train set in the basement of his house. But this grandpa has rotted teeth and glasses coated in greasy thumbprints. He still looks like somebody’s grandpa but the kind that keeps dead bodies in corners of the basement. His laughter is a light chuckle at first and then it becomes creepier and more ominous as time goes on. It’s the laugh of someone at 3 A.M. locked away in a windowless room of an asylum. The name 112dirtbag wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people unless they followed the investigation closely. Maura’s father had said that she’d probably been kidnapped by “some dirt bag on Route 112.” The disturbing old guy was taunting Maura’s loved ones, almost telling them that he might either know what happened to Maura or he IS what happened to Maura.

As with many deaths (be it a celebrity or not) each anniversary causes loved ones to play the “What if” game. “What if Maura hadn’t crashed her car that night?” “What if Maura had taken some time off school?”  “What if she had talked to someone about the things going on in her life?”

But Maura Murray will never have children and what will be remembered of her is a car crashed into a snow bank and abandoned by its driver. She will be forever linked to a goblin uploading hyena-like laughter onto the Internet, hinting that he knows what happened to Maura but he’ll never tell. She will be that vanished girl none of us ever get to know.

She will be the girl who disappeared forever.

Seattle Events in Truth and Fiction

Here are two new book reviews from Sarah about events in the Emerald city. Make sure to check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.

While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Madness by Eli Sanders

whilethecitysleptIn 2009, Isaiah Kalebu broke into a home in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, and brutally raped and attempted to kill two women, Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper.  While the women were able to escape, Teresa’s injuries were fatal, and Jennifer survived as the only witness.

This is a true crime story, but journalist Eli Sanders does something more than report the horrific facts. He investigates the backstory of Teresa and Jennifer’s lives, tells how they met and fell in love, and details the planning of their upcoming nuptials.

Sanders then delves into Isaiah’s story. He recounts how his parents’ turbulent and violent marriage dissolved. He talks of family members increased concern over Isaiah’s welfare and ability to deal with reality. Throughout the years there were many attempts at intervention to get Isaiah help for mental instability. As Isaiah grows into a young adult, he is plagued by delusions, possibly inherited from his mother’s side, where many struggled with schizophrenia and other afflictions. He never receives any formal psychiatric intervention.

What Sanders tries to do is to rationalize how Isaiah may have ended up in Teresa and Jennifer’s house. And look at what resources may have been able to prevent such a violent and terrible act.

With reduced budgets, and strained workloads, it’s utterly disturbing to realize the inadequacies of our mental health and court systems. Sanders eloquently blasts the systems that failed to prevent Isaiah from his crimes, and ultimately failed to protect Teresa and Jennifer.

This book is deemed to be an unfortunate new classic in true crime writing, with an overpowering sense of love between two women, and a rational voice for change.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

yourheartisamuscleThis is hands down one of the best books published in 2016 so far.

This book is set against the backdrop of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, back in 1999. Sunil Yapa invokes empathy and consideration for all sides involved. Victor, a young nomad, is back in Seattle, after traveling the world and objecting to injustice. He’s at the protests to make a statement and sell as much weed as possible. A young anarchist couple, dedicated to treating pepper spray victims, are on the scene to help the wounded. The police chief is in over his head, and two of his on-duty officers interpret the protesters in extremely contrasting ways. One of the WTO delegates, a representative from Sri Lanka, paints a sobering picture of his country’s peril, and of his overwhelming desire to help his constituency.

Yapa’s plot builds substantially, as the violence in the protests escalates. His character’s flaws are revealed with superb timing, and he does a great job of describing Seattle’s downtown core.

Everyone involved in the protests had a valid reason for their participation. Seeing the other point of view is not a simple task, but one he does with grace among a day filled with angst.

Sarah’s Picks

sarahmontage

Have you checked out our Facebook page lately? If not, you now have another reason to since Sarah has been reviewing her favorite reads. In case you missed them, four are published here for your enjoyment. Go Sarah go!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

beingmortalcoverThe author has simple prose on a highly complex topic. As a surgeon and author, he looks at the successes of modern medicine, and how it can prolong life, and attempt to stave off the inevitable. As many Americans age, our health care system has morphed into something that wants to increase longevity, but at what expense to emotional and quality of life? Gawande illustrates the evolution of the nursing home, what their original developers intended, and how industry has taken over. What used to be assisted living in people’s own homes, with as little intervention as possible, has morphed into a complex, multi-billion dollar industry, where individual control and autonomy has been taken away. He looks at how we value our elders in this country, and what we can do to make sure our loved ones have their wishes fulfilled in the end. This is a hard look at a subject that most people want to avoid. But he gracefully documents evidence on how to make the unavoidable process of death more pleasurable. He draws on his own experience with his dying father that is both touching and sincere. A good book for anyone wanting to work on living wills or end of life conversations.

Missoula:Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

missoulacoverThis is a tough but important read. Krakauer examined years of mishandling of rape cases at the University of Montana. Various agencies veered from the proper channels, and did not adequately prosecute the cases. The university is home to a beloved football team, and when some of its players were accused of rape, the community was split. Victims were not treated well by police, and faced public humiliation and shame, while some of the accused walked free, without the cases being properly looked into. The entire fiasco got so out of hand that the Department of Justice was brought in to investigate. Krakauer does an excellent job looking at the root causes of what went wrong, and sheds light on the victim’s predicaments, as their cases are dismissed. This book reminds us that rape happens more than we think…and the majority of cases are not reported to authorities. I admire the strength these women had, in order to testify against their attackers. I only wish the authorities had done more to make sure the criminals were prosecuted at trial. This is Krakauer’s latest installment; he’s best known for ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘Into Thin Air.’

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

deliciousfoodscoverDelicious Foods by James Hannaham is a unique book where crack cocaine is almost a reliable narrator. The drug tells it like it is, and recaps the trials and tribulations of one of his biggest fans, Darlene. Darlene turned to crack after the murder of her activist husband, Nat. Their only child, Eddie, is left to fend for himself, as his mother becomes increasingly addicted and withdrawn. Darlene is picked up one day in a minivan, which promises her steady work and an even steadier supply of crack. Darlene is whisked away to Delicious Foods, a type of labor camp, where addicts toll and sweat away, in exchange for a constant high. Eddie is abandoned and attempts to locate his mom, and eventually ends up at Delicious as well. This book is reminiscent of the slave trade, human trafficking, and had elements of addiction, family dynamics, and greed. Difficult to digest at times, but a completely unique storyline with quite a remarkable cast of shady characters. I think this one might be seeing some awards in its future.

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes

barbaracoverThis catchy title proves to be a worthy debut collection of short stories. Holmes’s voice is honest, and her tales of young relationships showcase her likeable and realistic characters. In “Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love,” a woman falls fast and madly in love. But her pet pit bull hates her new boyfriend.. As their relationship progresses, the novelty of him wears off and she finds herself increasingly irritated, while her dog warms up to his presence. “Desert Hearts” showcases a couple, recently graduated from law school living in San Francisco. The young man is hard working in a new firm, while the woman finds part-time work at a local sex toy store, and deals with the consequences from her friends and family. Barbara, in the title story, has set her sights on Princeton after high school graduation. She is able to ignore the taunts from her peers, and focuses on helping her autistic brother and her academic future. Holmes debut is fresh, relatable and easy to digest. A perfect quick read for the end of summer.

Did You Eat Your Bowl Of Darkness Today?

Toykoatnight

Sometimes I dream about traveling to far off countries, seeing historic sites, meeting new people. And then I think of using public toilets in a foreign country and I think: Nope. Nope. Nope. I have a problem using the toilets at work. Me, travel to a completely foreign country where I might get diarrhea forever? Or eat unrecognizable food. I might have to eat something raw from the ocean that is still opening and closing its mouth: Nope. Nope. Nope. I can’t imagine walking down a narrow street in Tokyo, thinking ‘What’s that smell?’ and ‘Am I ever going to see my mom again?’ and then WHUMP!  I vanish from the streets. Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything. I never existed.

peoplewhoeatdarknessAs detailed by Richard Parry in the true crime book People Who Eat Darkness, that’s exactly what happened to Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000. Lucie was a 21-year-old British woman in serious debt. The kind of debt that would take a lifetime to pay off. She and her friend Louise heard that if they took jobs as bar hostesses in Tokyo, they could pay off their debts fast. A hostess is basically a kind of fetish for the Japanese man. A hostess, often a foreign woman, gets paid to sit down and talk with a client for a few hours at a bar. Does prostitution come into play? Here’s where it gets a little murky.

Women who are hostesses can also go out on paid ‘dates’ with these gentlemen. The hostess gets part of the money while the club they work for also gets a cut. The men who pay for these dates are their ‘dohans.’ What the women do on these dates with their dohans is up to them. The hostesses are expected to let the men talk, flatter them, sympathize with their daily lives, and so on. Even if they’re the ugliest, rudest, most boring human on the planet. Sounds like a blind date where you’re way too nice to pretend to use the bathroom and then slip out the restaurant’s kitchen, so you sit for HOURS listening to him talk about his garage band and how he’s living in his mom’s basement ‘temporarily.’

One evening Lucie goes out to meet her dohan and calls her best friend Louise and says the man is giving her a cell phone, which was a pretty big deal back in 2000. And that’s it. No one hears from Lucie ever again. A man with perfect English calls Louise the next day to tell her that Lucie has joined a cult and will not be in contact with friends or family members. Lucie was in no way religious but she upped and joined a cult? Thus begins an almost decade long battle for Lucie’s family to find justice for her.

The Japanese police seem baffled as to what they can do to help and initially refuse to search for Lucie. Lucie’s father and sister come from England and begin searching for her, holding media interviews and setting up the Lucie Blackman Trust. There’s something slightly off about the father, nothing horrendously evil but something just this side of smarmy. He doesn’t grieve in the way people think he should. We all react differently to loss and if someone loses a loved one, especially to murder, we expect them to gnash their teeth and tear their clothing. But some people are subtle and subdued grievers.

Lucie’s sister, looking eerily similar to her dead sister, faces the public with anger and bitterness. Other hostesses begin to come forward, telling stories of waking up naked in a strange bed with the night before a blur and no idea what happened to them. They too were dismissed by the Japanese police. They all described the same man: quiet and on the sweaty side. But the man who spoke perfect English on the phone proves to be elusive. It takes several years for this man to come to trial, but it isn’t the end of the heartbreak for Lucie’s family. That kind of pain leaves a stain.

Reading like a novel, People Who Eat Darkness studies not only the relations between foreign countries and differing ideas of justice, but also the relations between family members and the inevitable toll debt takes upon a person. It’s also about a family that refuses to give up on finding answers: living through ten years of court battles that continue on to this day. The darkest hearts don’t reside just in our backyards or the familiar streets of our cities. They are everywhere. They wear the masks of politeness, culture and genteel kindness. But evil lurks behind the most unsuspecting of facades.